Background Information I travelled on Carnival Freedom with DH to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. My travel agent sent me a flyer about the cruise a year ago with a great price...too good turn down! We like to travel and this was our second cruise.
We flew Alitalia - next time, I think I will spring for business class.
Ship Info DH thought it was rather gaudy with all the bright colors and garish decorations and the layout was difficult. You had to either go up one or two decks or cut through the dining room to get to the other side of the ship on decks 3 and 4.
But most things were easy to find once you got your bearings.
Activities With such a heavy port itinerary, to be honest the only activity I took part in was the art auction. We also attended a trivia game on our first at sea day. We mainly read or socialized with people we met on the ship or on cruise critics. The art auction was ok but I went on the last day and it was rather long that by the end only a few dozen people were left. There was bingo, pool games and trivia along with gambling and eating.
Service Our room steward was excellent. Friendly and helpful. His mastery of towel animals was fantastic...we kept them all! Unlike some of the other cruises - our bathrobes stayed until we disembarked. However, why the staff felt the need to vacuum at 9 am on a sea day is beyond me - they could have waited until a little later. I guess they wanted to get us up so they could clean the cabins.
It was difficult to get through to the pursers desk on the phone and sometimes the english on reception was not the best. I phoned to be connected to my friend's room and had to spell her name about 4 times.
The dining room staff - Sunil, Puji and assistant Maitre'D - Isabella were excellent. Sunil was a little cranky at first, but once we got him to open up, he was a very friendly person.
Shore Excursions Thanks to CruiseCritic.com - I was able to plan most of the shore excursions myself. We did one cruise shore excursion. Here is a brief rundown:
Naples: Organized by another cruise critic member - about 14 of us went to Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii or Herculaneum with Sorrento Limos. Our guide Vincenzo was great - knowing that 4 of us wanted to see Herculaneum rather then Pompeii - he arranged a car for us. Capritown is just a high end shopping mall - the Island needs a whole day to itself. Sorrento was lovely - we had a nice lunch with a complimentary limoncello. Herculaneum was fantastic. Not overrun with tourists, shady and easy to walk around. As our driver said - Ercolano (where the site is located) is the ugliest town in Italy.
Rhodes: We shared a taxi with another couple - they had booked George at rhodeswonder.com. We all had a great time travelling to Lindos, sightseeing and swimming. We had a nice lunch. George the driver really made the day.
Izmir: I booked an excursion for Ephesus that grew to 19 people! It was with Ekol travel. They had a bus that supposedly fit 27 people. Anyway, they were on time but two of the group were not. We nearly left without them. Even though I told everyone the time, these two were close to 30 minutes late. This is where I made a mistake - I didn't bring the itinerary with me. We saw Mary's house, then a great tour of Ephesus - then one of our group went missing, so while I was helping to look for him the guide apparently mentioned a visit to the inevitable leather factory...sigh. We stopped there which upset some of the group. So, we only stayed 15 minutes and then I asked the guide about the temple of Artemis - he said it was not on the itinerary - I argued it was...so we stopped on a road overlooking the site and he gave us a quick review. Then it was back to the ship. Most of the group assured me that they were ok with the stop - but I still was mad at myself for not bringing the itinerary with me.
Istanbul - 12 of us did a private excursion with CTC Turkey. For $50 per person - this turned out to be the best of all. We had a great young guide - Hassan who took us everywhere. This time I had my itinerary - good thing. Mine said Hagia Sofia, his didn't! Anyway, he included it. Many of the tours don't bother going upstairs - Hassan took us upstairs and that is where most of the spectacular mosaics are located. We had a great lunch at the Pudding Shop and some time in the Grand Bazaar. Then 4 of us wanted to visit the Spice market. Hassan arranged for the bus to take the rest of the group back to the ship. We went to the spice market and had a great time with a turkish delight tasting and purchasing spices. Hassan then got a taxi to take us back to the ship. CTC Turkey wanted payment in advance - so I couldn't add to the group. That was a good thing. Istanbul is a crowded busy city - 12 people was the maximum in my opinion for a private tour.
Athens: We hired Jordan Ntaioglou from www.athens-tours.gr. For 3 of us - it was a great day. Jordan was very knowledgeable. We saw Athens and Cape Sounion with lunch in Glyfda (a suburb near the beaches). Thank goodness for the cab as DH was feeling ill with a sore throat and cold....
Katakolon: We did a ship's tour here - We chose Olympia with the folkloric dance and lunch - while the guide was good, we would have preferred more time to look around Olympia rather then sitting around at the two souvenir stands for 1 hour.... I purchased some olive oil from one of the stores in port.
Livorno: I caught DH's cold and felt horrible - if I hadn't arranged for a van with Tuscany by Taxi - I would have just stayed in bed for the day. Then to add to the fun - they didn't have my reservation. Apparently I didn't confirm it - well I did - but forgot to bring it with me. Thank goodness one of the group spoke Italian. That saved lots of aggravation. Anyway, they took the five of us and knocked 30 euros off the price. We visited Pisa, Florence then one of the designer malls (very expensive but had a nice caffe) and a drive through Tuscany. I managed to endure the day and felt a little better by the end.
Rome: 3 of us took the train in - very easy with shuttle buses to take you through the port then a short walk to the train station. We had booked a walking tour of the Colosseum with Through Eternity Tours. Great tour until the point where DH disappeared. We were outside and a decision was made not to use the bathroom as the line up was huge. DH didn't hear this and without mentioning it to me - went in. I was chatting to the guide and didn't notice him disappear. As we were about to go to the Forum, I noticed he wasn't around. Our friend thought she saw him go into the washroom. It was very crowded. He had done this in other ports (Istanbul, Ephesus) and caught up to us - so I thought he would do the same here. We waited about 15 minutes for him but no sign. After the tour, 2 of us looked for him and he looked for us for about 2 hours. Bottom line - if you are in a crowded situation, tell your DH, DW, SO, tour guide that you are going to the bathroom, make sure they acknowledge that you are. After our search, the 2 of us took the 110 hop on/off bus, took photos at the Trevi fountain and had a nice late lunch. We both took an express train back to Port where I found an angry DH waiting for me.
Summary We enjoyed our vacation due to the great ports we visited. We were happy with our accommodation and the people we met on the ship. There were only 41 children on board so it was a mature crowd. But value for money - it was great. We could not have done all those sights in 12 days with flights and hotels. We would use Carnival again.
Travel To Port of Embarkation We foolishly took the advice of our travel agent and booked Carnival's shuttle to the port. We had to sit around the airport for 3 hours waiting for it. I would have rather gone straight to the port as Civitavecchia is a nice place to hang out for a few hours. Anyway, it finally came. In a disorganized fashion - we all piled onto the buses. We were able to board at 11:30 - I printed our documents on line and that seemed to confuse the staff, but once they had our passports - we were checked in quite fast. We were able to get into our cabins by 1 pm. Our luggage arrived by 3pm.
Stateroom We had an inside cabin on deck 1 - at first I was disappointed that at the location, but it was close to the gangways, quiet (except for the occasional engine noise) and quite spacious for an inside cabin. Lots of storage space.
Dining This is where we were a little disappointed. Breakfasts were fine, we ate lunch mostly in port. The fish and chips were excellent. Dinner was inconsistent. Sometimes the food was fabulous, other nights mediocre. DH asked for a medium rare steak and got well done instead. I had a fish dish that tasted like cardboard. We celebrated our 10th anniversary in the Sun King Supper club - well worth the $30 cover charge. Excellent food and service. I had booked the reservation through John Heald's blog and sure enough when I checked, there was my reservation.
Entertainment The cruise director - John Heald made the cruise entertainment. He was funny and I did enjoy his sense of humor. He had a daily show where he read letters from the passengers. I sent him a note asking him to thank our tablemates for sending us an anniversary gift of champagne and strawberries - he did that and then phoned me. It was quite the conversation. Otherwise, the shows were a little on the cheap side. Two of the shows consisted of passenger talent shows, one was John's welcome aboard show. The others we did not see as we went to the lounges or went to bed early due to busy port days. We saw the Beatles tribute "ticket to ride" - it was pretty good.
Disembarkation We self-disembarked as we shared a private car into Rome. Made things much easier. We spent an extra night in Rome, staying at the Hotel Amelia. This hotel was perfect - very close to the Vatican where I was lucky enough to get on the Scavi tour. We ended our stay with a wine tasting walking tour with Through Eternity that evening..